With the Corona pandemic, the populace has recognised that many workers are essential. That judgment is not grounded in being known or on what one earns. It is a verdict based on the value of their work.
Workers in health care are risking their lives to save ours. There are also workers in supermarkets or in the fields, seafarers, truck drivers, postal workers, plumbers and electricians who are there for us in emergencies along with others who make this world turn.
On his deathbed, a gunfighter of the American West, Bat Masterson (1853-1921), is reputed to have said:
“There are those who maintain that, in this old world of ours, everybody gets about the same break in life, and that may be true. I have observed, for example, that everybody gets about the same amount of ice. The rich get it in the summertime, and the poor get it in the winter.”
Extremes of wealth and poverty, of workers and owners, also in the 19th century, tell a large part of the story of the construction of America's railroads.
Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins built mansions on Nob Hill in San Francisco. They vaunted their wealth and bad taste until justice was served by the 1906 earthquake.
The four “barons” made their first fortunes selling goods to the ‘49ers during the Gold Rush. They sunk some of their gains into the transcontinental railroad. It ended up being a cosy and rewarding arrangement as the government provided subsidies and land grants. After the tracks were laid, the rest of the land was theirs to sell.
Their wealth was generated not just by the land, but by the 20,000 workers who built the Western part of the inter-continental railroad, 90 per of whom were Chinese They laboured hard and suffered much, not just from inhuman working and living conditions, but from racism, brutality and armed attacks.
After the railroad was completed, the workers were largely forgotten. The four barons, corrupt and powerful, have lived on in history.
The Intercontinental railroad, built in the West by Chinese workers and, in the East, by Irish and German immigrants, freed slaves and veterans of both sides of the Civil War, was an impressive feat. It became a symbol of the United States; one made possible by essential workers, mostly foreigners.
The first President of the AFL-CIO, George Meany, a plumber by trade, was President of the New York State Federation of Labor from 1934 to 1939. He argued the trade union position on a hot issue in a radio interview. In a later discussion on the same program, the spokesman of the other side, a lawyer, said, “what does he know, he is only a plumber?” In response, Meany commented to the same journalist, “New York City would be better off with no lawyers than with no plumbers”.
Whether it is helping save lives and getting by during a pandemic or building infrastructure or fixing plumbing, workers, as well as their views, have always been essential. The limited use of the word, “essential” today should, nevertheless, inspire thinking about what is important in life and recognition that just because people may be overlooked, it does not mean that they are not important and essential.
Although labour may create all wealth, those riches generate power for others. However, the crisis may have taught us that there are things more important than making others rich and powerful.
The relative handful of people who control massive wealth do not have a divine right to shape the future. The collective power of organised workers, focused and united, can be immense. Together, they can help balance power in society and give everybody a fighting chance to build communities that are freer, fairer, healthier and more prosperous.
Source : https://www.linkedin.com/…/werent-workers-always-essential-…